Vol. 43, No. 8
Access to Justice
Public Service at Denver Law
by Alexi Freeman
About the Author
Alexi Freeman is the Director of Public Interest and is a lecturer in the Legal Externship Program at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law—(303) 871-6788, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Denver’s mission is to be a great private university dedicated to the public good.1 At the Sturm College of Law (Denver Law), we take that mission to heart. Whether students envision a lifelong career in the public sector or anticipate supplementing their private practice with pro bono cases, there is a place for them at Denver Law. Recently, we developed a number of new initiatives to strengthen and support our public interest community. Some of these efforts are highlighted below. In addition to the support from the bar, we welcome the broader legal community’s input and participation as we continue to grow our commitment to be the Public Interest Law School of the Rockies.
Virtual Public Service Portal
This year, we launched the virtual Public Service Portal,2 a one-stop-shop for finding out about public service opportunities at Denver Law. It highlights courses, faculty, alumni, student groups, and more. If you are an alum and would like to be featured on the portal, or if you would like to advertise an event on the portal, send an e-mail to Alexi Freeman at email@example.com.
Rocky Mountain Public Interest and Social Justice Retreat
On September 20–21, Denver Law will host the inaugural Rocky Mountain Public Interest and Social Justice Retreat. The retreat will offer public interest-minded law school students from Denver Law, the University of Colorado Law School, the University of New Mexico School of Law, and the University of Wyoming College of Law the opportunity to meet and network with students from the region to discuss pressing public interest issues, including the ways law may be used as an instrument for social change. Because discussions will focus on issues facing communities in the Rocky Mountain region, such as the intersection of the criminal justice system with immigration, as well as the gaping hole in legal services for modest means individuals and families, the retreat also may be the start of helping students develop a commitment to serving the people and needs of this region that will continue when they are lawyers. Perhaps most important, the retreat will bring together the growing community of intellectually curious and passionate law students who are eager to use their legal education to become agents of social change.
We are recruiting practitioners from the field to participate in leading sessions. If you are interested in learning more or participating in the retreat, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Denver Law appreciates the support already received by the Colorado Bar Association’s Modest Means Task Force.
Pro Bono Research Project
To ensure that Denver Law remains at the forefront of public service, every JD student is required to perform at least fifty hours of supervised, uncompensated, law-related public service work as a prerequisite to graduation. According to the American Bar Association, Denver Law is one of only approximately forty schools with such a requirement.
The Pro Bono Research Project (PBRP) helps Denver Law students fulfill this requirement by connecting them with private sector attorneys. This is an opportunity for lawyers to obtain student assistance on their pro bono and "low bono" work, and for students to learn about the value—and possibility—of doing pro bono work while working in the private sector. Now that many states encourage or require all practicing lawyers to perform pro bono service every year, the PBRP helps put students on the path toward understanding and valuing the role of public service from the private lawyer’s perspective. To learn more about the PBRP and to submit a project opportunity for students, visit www.law.du.edu/index.
New Innovative Legal Externship Programs
Denver Law’s Legal Externship Program, one of the largest externship programs in the country, offers approximately 500 placements. It serves as an effective and comprehensive bridge to take students from law student to lawyer. Countless individuals, families, and communities have benefited from the work of our law students. The Legal Externship Program welcomes new placements and new supervising attorneys. If you are interested in becoming involved in any of the programs discussed here, or in hosting a student generally, e-mail email@example.com. Brief discussions of some of the program’s new initiatives follow.
Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families
This past year, Denver Law developed a partnership with the Resource Center for Separating and Divorcing Families, the first center of its kind in the country. The Center, a nonprofit organization, is part of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. Rather than using the traditional adversarial system, students are mediating family conflicts by providing comprehensive and affordable legal dispute resolution, therapeutic support, and education services in an interdisciplinary and coordinated manner. The Center’s goal is to enable families to create or maintain a healthy family environment through the critical transition period of separation and divorce. The "reform of legal education" is quite transparent in this setting, as social work, psychology, and law students work together for the health and well-being of all parties involved.
Hybrid Immigration Externship Program
The Hybrid Immigration Externship Program combines aspects of a more traditional law school clinical program with the structure of an externship program. In the spring of 2014, students worked with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN). Six students represented clients in bond hearings, offered presentations at the Aurora Detention Center, and began working on a legal/policy report on access to counsel in the immigration detention system. Casework was supervised by the attorneys at RMIAN, and externship faculty worked with students to obtain extra support on their cases.
Racial, Social, and Economic Justice Externship Program
This fall, the new Racial, Social, and Economic Justice (RSEJ) Externship Program begins. RSEJ will bring together students, lawyers, and a range of organizations and agencies that specifically address issues of racial, social, and economic justice within different practice settings and across different issue areas. Students extern at a government agency or nonprofit that is focused on civil rights, or for a plaintiff-side antidiscrimination law firm. They also take a corresponding seminar focused on racial and social justice work. The goal is to help build a community of social justice "change agents" within Denver Law.
Spanish-Language-in-Practice Program (SLIPP)
As part of its commitment to graduating practice-ready lawyers who are prepared to engage in today’s global economy, Denver Law was one of the first law schools in the country to adopt a Lawyering in Spanish program. This program offers a robust list of courses, as well as networking and community service opportunities. The program is launching SLIPP, which will match students who have a requisite level of Spanish ability with externship placements where they will be able to use their Spanish language skills in at least 20% of their legal work assignments. We hope this will further our commitment to servicing the growing needs of the Denver metro Spanish-speaking community.
110 Years of the Student Law Office
Each year, approximately 100 students participate in the in-house clinical opportunities offered by the Student Law Office in the following areas:
community economic development
mediation and arbitration.
The program recently marked its 110th anniversary. It also was awarded the Pro Bono Award by Super Lawyers, which honors legal professionals who exemplify excellence in practice in service of others through delivery of volunteer legal services to the poor, underrepresented, or exploited.
This spring, Denver Law announced the "Live-Client Guarantee," which gives every student dynamic, hands-on client interactions outside the classroom through in-house clinics and externships. Denver Law is one of fourteen law schools in the country that offers this type of program. In addition to helping to graduate more practice-ready students, this will help expose and exhibit public interest law, public service, and the service of all of the in-house clinics to low-income communities.
Loan Repayment Assistance Program
The Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) aims to encourage graduating law students and recent alumni to seek and maintain public interest employment. By providing forgivable loans to repay law school-related debts, LRAP helps attorneys provide legal assistance to those with limited access to the legal system without having to worry about being able to pay their loans. This past year, ten public interest attorneys received awards. Recipients work at nonprofit organizations, as public defenders and district attorneys, and for government agencies. Financial support for the LRAP program is welcomed, because it allows Denver Law to give awards to a large number of qualified applicants. At a time when federal public interest loan support may be in jeopardy, Denver Law’s LRAP program fulfills a critical gap for public sector lawyers. Contact Ricki Kelly, Executive Director of Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in providing financial support to LRAP.
Public Interest Law Group’s Annual Auction
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Denver Law’s Public Interest Law Group’s (PILG) Annual Fundraising Auction. PILG is the law school’s student-run public interest organization. Its goals are to encourage law students to devote their careers to the struggle for social justice, expose students to the broad range of work being done to advance progressive legal goals, and inspire students to follow their hearts. Each year, PILG uses the money raised by the event to fund grants that enable Denver Law students to spend their summers serving public interest organizations in the United States and abroad.
Last year’s auction was attended by 200 guests. The auction raised approximately $7,000, helping to support three students who worked at the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, the Colorado Prison Law Project, and the Disability Rights Education Defense Fund.
Commitment to Public Service
Denver Law is committed to promoting public service. Support is welcomed and necessary to continue to grow a community of students, staff, and faculty dedicated to using their law degree to ensure access to justice.
1. See www.du.edu/explore/visionandvalues.html.
2. Denver Law’s Public Service Portal is available at wwww.law.du.edu/index.php/public-service-portal.
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